By MAJ Mark O. Fulmer: Fighting the global war on terrorism for over a decade produced Army Aviation attack reconnaissance squadrons extremely proficient at centralized planning and execution of operations at the scout-weapons-team level to provide flexible, 24-hour aviation support to the Soldier on the ground. Although well suited for counter-insurgency operations, the squadron’s near monopoly on planning down to the team level came at the cost of the platoon’s and troop’s ability to organically conduct the operations process of planning, preparing, and executing while continuously assessing. Upon receipt of a mission to deploy to the Republic of Korea (ROK) to support the armistice and deter North Korean aggression, the 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment secured a unique opportunity to train collectively at the platoon and troop level for decisive aviation operations.
2-6 CAV aviators conduct Maritime Counter-SOF operations in Jindo Island, Republic of Korea./ U.S. ARMY 2-6TH CAV COURTESY PHOTOS
The unit departed home station trained at the individual level and tested at the scout weapons team level accomplished through a gunnery and culminating field training exercise. Following initial mission analysis and a detailed pre-deployment sight survey of the peninsula, the commander described his vision to drive the operations process. The outcome of the mission analysis verified that mission essential tasks (MET) and key collective tasks (KCT) nested with the higher command’s mission and established the framework to construct the unit training plan (UTP) and forecast the annual flying hour program, ammunition allocation, and financial budget.
Prep and Recovery Planning
When accounting for preparation and recovery time, Squadron planners allocated ten weeks for the two reliefs in place (RIP), eight weeks to higher headquarters operations, 12 weeks to squadron led training, and eight weeks to troop led training for the 38 training weeks available. A review of the higher headquarters calendar revealed that theater level exercises like Key Resolve in March and Ulchi-Freedom Guardian in August both of which focus on exercising operational plans (OPLANs) for the defense of the Korean Peninsula punctuate the peninsula’s annual training cycle. Although these yearly exercises focus at the battalion and higher command post level, the combat aviation brigade (CAB) encourages multi-echelon training to facilitate planning at the company and crew level when able. Utilizing the time between OPLAN exercises, the unit first focused on platoon operations, culminating in a platoon evaluation exercise. Following platoon level assessments, troop commanders refined their plans, prepared, and executed retraining of deficiencies and prepared for a squadron gunnery and a troop evaluation exercise. The CAB resourced the troop evaluation exercise with observer coach/trainers (OC/T), facilitating the development of the troop level operations process while allowing the squadron commander to further mentor the troop commanders executing operations. The high operational tempo not only challenged the line units but was equally demanding on the maintenance and distribution platoons as evidenced by the squadron flying over 690 hours and driving in excess of 21,700 miles between seven major training sites throughout the Korean peninsula.
Key Collective Tasks (KCTs) drove the development of the platoon evaluation training objectives for the six line platoons and four support platoons that comprise the squadron. The exercise tested the troop leading procedures (TLPs), planning cells, and leadership conducted while executing screen, zone reconnaissance, deliberate attack, personnel recovery, helicopter and vehicle maintenance, helicopter and vehicle recovery, convoy, forward arming and refueling point, and sustainment operations. The squadron provided organic OC/Ts to assess the platoon operations process. Troop commanders, first sergeants, and senior instructor pilots served as platoon level OC/Ts while squadron leadership and staff controlled the execution provided supplemental OC/T assessments. The assessments provided by the troop leadership during these platoon evaluations constructed exacting retraining programs of each platoon in line with the eight step training model and prepared the unit for troop evaluations. The two most significant opportunities this platoon evaluation provided the squadron were the increased capacity for platoons to plan, execute, and assess tactical operations and the preparation of troop leadership to execute troop UTPs.
B Troop conducts rehearsals prior to a platoon EXEVAL
The platoon evaluations certified troop leadership to plan and execute well-resourced, challenging training at the platoon level. Troops then conducted air-ground operations, KCT and MET training, and live fire training exercises in support of rotational ground units, Ranger regiment, and Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) units on peninsula in support of Pacific Pathways. To maximize blade hours, troops conducted rehearsals and utilized the Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer (AVCATT) to train employment of aircraft survivability equipment (ASE) with great success. In addition to raising the readiness level of the unit, the troop leadership began to master the troop leading procedures and the eight step training model to execute the UTP.
Troop evaluations culminated with a training event templated for late July; however, July is the height of monsoon season, and the UTP fell prey to the effects of the weather. The day prior to deploying, adverse weather impacted planned aviation operations. Unfavorable sea states prevented the emplacement of floating targets for the scheduled overwater deliberate attack, and torrential rains prevented occupation of the tactical assembly area. Flexibility on behalf of the staff and a resourced branch plan enabled the troops to utilize the AVCATT to train troop METs, specifically aerial reconnaissance, security and attack. The brigade resourced OC/Ts, consisting of post command captains, majors, and senior warrant officers. The officers provided depth of the assessment of troop operations while the squadron leadership and staff functioned as the execution cell to further facilitate the assessments.
Following six days of deliberate planning, rehearsing, and execution in the AVCATT, the weather cleared, allowing for the live execution of aerial security in support of a rotational ground element.
Soldiers from D Troop, 2-6 CAV conduct downed aircraft recovery team (DART) training.
Throughout the platoon and troop evaluations, multi-echelon training continued with over 89% of the squadron’s aviators attaining pilot-in-command status and all line troop platoon leaders achieving air mission commander status. The execution of MET operations at the Troop level and the corresponding OC-T assessments provided an invaluable experience to the development of Troop leadership and growth of Troop warfighting capability.
Throughout the rotation, the squadron strengthened the alliance with a partnered unit of rotational aviation forces, the ROK 103rd Attack Aviation Battalion. Soldiers of the unit engaged in multiple capabilities briefs, cultural exchanges, and training events, to include participating in the squadron Spur Ride. During the Spur Ride, nine members of the partnered unit earned their spurs and purchased Stetsons, embracing the Cavalry spirit while sharing tips on field craft and the ROK Army equivalent to meals ready-to-eat (MRE). These shared experiences and training allowed Soldiers and leaders of the unit to build personal bonds and, more importantly, strengthen the 65-year-old U.S.-South Korean alliance. The squadron reinforced this shared history with the ROK by continuing the education of our Soldiers through interactive staff rides focused on the historical relevance of Korean battlefields.
The Korean War staff rides of Task Force Smith, Hill 303 on the Pusan Perimeter, Inchon Landing, and the 1871 ‘Great Disturbance’ served as one element of a robust leadership training program spearheaded by the squadron command team. In addition to the battlefield tours, the leader development program nested with the UTP to prepare leaders for future assignments. A demanding character-focused reading program, team building exercises, and weekly and bi-monthly classes focused on leader competence further developed leaders at all levels. The reading program covered diverse topics such as the power of transformational leaders and personal courage found in Jim Frederick’s Black Hearts and the selfless service captured in Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last. Throughout the month, leaders commented on the reading in an online forum which culminated in a physically challenging, team building exercise or sport.
C/2-6 CAV aircraft turn inbound while conducting gunnery at MPRC, July 2015.
The end of each team building exercise, the squadron leadership facilitated a discussion of the reading, its relevance to the UTP and to their professional development as Army officers. Throughout the rotation, the development of leader competence was a focus embedded in the weekly battle rhythm which include classes on equipment and maintenance processes, motor stables and production control meetings, pilots’ classes, and platoon leadership certification nested with the eight step training model.
Throughout the nine month deployment to the Republic of Korea, the squadron maintained a high rate of readiness through a deliberate application of doctrine and embedding an aggressive leader development plan into a rigorous UTP. Leader involvement at all levels created a learning environment focused on the successful application of the operations process through planning, preparing, executing and continuously assessing operations developed to increase warfighting capability. This deployment to the Korea peninsula as a rotational unit allowed for the unit to focus on training KCTs and METs at the platoon and troop level, develop leaders, and build the alliance while serving as a real-world deterrent in a theater that has the potential for escalation.
MAJ Mark O. Fulmer is the executive officer of 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, headquartered at Wheeler Army Airfield, HI.